The Argentine Senate approved a bill Wednesday intended to democratize the judiciary, but critics believe that the reform may leave judges vulnerable to political influence. Under the new bill members of the Council of Magistrates, the board that appoints federal judges, will be elected. The reform [Buenos Aires Herald report], although backed by President Cristina Fernandez [official profile, in Spanish] and passed by both houses of congress, has been heavily criticized by those in the judiciary, with the National Chamber of Civil Appeals condemning it as a violation of the principle of judicial independence. Earlier this month, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers urged [JURIST report] Argentina to ensure judicial independence by not passing this controversial bill. UN expert Gabriela Knaul [official profile] expressed concern, saying, "Providing the opportunity for political parties to propose and organize the election of the members of the Judicial Council threatens their independence, thereby seriously jeopardizing the principles of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, which constitute fundamental elements of any democracy and rule of the law." The bill is expected to be signed into law.
Last month an Argentine appeals court struck down [JURIST report] a 2009 media law backed by Fernandez as unconstitutional. The law was designed to dismantle media empire Clarin, which Fernandez claimed was trying to dismantle her government with biased reporting. The court decided that the law would unconstitutionally limit Clarin's rights and would impede the company's freedom of expression without benefiting the broader population.